One day last spring I was sat sipping chamomile tea in a beautiful hotel with one of my dearest friends with the melodic sound of Chopin (requested) deeply vibrating into my soul, the soothing mellow taste of the most exquisite tea, and it was one of the first times for a while I had felt so at peace. During our huge heart to
I would describe 2018 as a year of loss in so many ways and I thought it would be an interesting topic to discuss and reflect on. For there are the predictable losses that one has to come to terms with when you receive a life-changing diagnosis. Be it from the loss of the day to day activities once so easily achieved, to the loss of expectations, hopes and dreams and so it goes on. But the loss of friendships or relationships? Surely that’s the one thing that in the midst of the deep physical and emotional turmoil that would stay a constant? You would naturally assume that friends and relations would draw closer at such deeply vulnerable times, but actually, it can be a time where many drift away instead.
Understanding Chronic Illness
As my discussion developed with my friend, we discussed the nature of people’s understanding of chronic illness. As a result, I surmised, on thinking and reflecting on the subject this deeply, that I believe it has something to do with the lack of commonly understood rituals for persistent stress or sustained grief.
Though deeply uncomfortable to discuss and think about, from my own
But the same cannot be said about chronic illness where the “loss” isn’t final and the emotional agony is ongoing. There are no cards that acknowledge when an illness becomes a continual challenge unless of course, it’s for a hospital stay or operation. There are no ceremonies for when that individual’s life is changed immeasurably. We simply have no rituals for the sustained grief that keeps on giving or the agony that becomes a way of life. And this therein I think lies the problems for accepting the loss of friendships or relationships due to chronic illness.
Contrarily, I’m sure equally you do remember only too well an initial period of concern and compassion from many around you. Those that couldn’t do enough for you at first, and that helped, but then this help and support dwindled away. Meanwhile, your anguish and pain went on just the same and you had to cope with it alone.
Distance becomes increasingly more evident and that leads to infrequent visits and messages until it becomes all too apparent that the pain, the shackles of your suffering, has made them too uncomfortable to be present anymore. Because as discussed above, a sustained illness or grief, as perpetuated by our health-adoring, goal obsessed society, doesn’t sit well for many. And so their need to create distance ultimately stems for their own survival and peace. Ultimately: many people cannot deal with this and they don’t want to deal with this. That’s just the truth of it.
Letting Go & Forgiveness
Growing up I had what I call a “forest of friends”. I always had a huge circle of compassionate friends, sassy friends, good time pals and those that shared my own hobbies and passions. And many of these relationships have been sustained since childhood.
With my first diagnosis of a Pituitary Tumour at University, many of the “forest of friends” I had were so kind in their support. Because as life-changing as this diagnosis was, it was at least an illness where the main symptoms can be treated enough over time to lead a somewhat ‘normal life’. However since then, what I didn’t realise, was how much this condition would weaken my body over 10 years and lead me to my present-day state.
And over this period of time, I developed my own business, I completed two degrees and I was simply known as ‘Georgie with the one invisible illness’. That was inspirational to many. I had an alluring shiny edge despite my illness. But in February, with my latest diagnosis, everything changed. A diagnosis of one of the most serious autoimmune diseases meant a complete change in every single aspect of my life. Because of this, many fell away almost instantaneously which has been as heartbreaking as the diagnosis itself.
After months and months of ruminating on this here’s what I truly believe, and this is so, so important to this whole discussion: not everyone who leaves you has a bad heart. They are not all bad people. At all. It’s that simply not everyone has the same heart as you. As a result, not everyone you think will be there for you will be. Even if you have been there for them in their times of need. It’s, unfortunately, that simple.
So much of what we are going through is invisible and the people that leave us at this time might simply not understand. They may not be strong enough to watch you suffer and brave enough to walk that long road with you and willing enough to make sacrifices to support you. And what’s also important to understand is that none of this has anything to do with you. I look in the eyes of my family and best friends and I know so much that to be true. So often they say: ‘I feel so helpless because I hate to see you suffer and there’s nothing I can do to make it better/I don’t know what to do to make you better’.
On the other hand, it may actually be that they DO understand. Perhaps only too well, but it could be a trigger for something they have either experienced in their own life or witnessed in someone else. Whatever the reasons may be, the only thing that has helped me is to practise forgiveness. Forgive those who do not understand. If for no other reason than you deserve peace. And because resentment and any bitterness will only make you feel physically and emotionally worse.
For as many people as I’ve lost, other relationships I have in my life have deepened in simply unimaginable ways and I have also been blessed by new relationships entering my life with individuals who connect so vibrantly and deeply to my heart and soul. But gone is the “forest of friends” and instead replaced by a blooming garden of truly angelic souls.
So why is it still so heartbreaking to be forgotten and left by so many others? People who you may have once connected
Letting go is a part of life but with chronic illness and pain that teaching acquires a whole new depth. As heartbreaking as it is, letting go is often the most healing action you can take. Change in itself, chronic illness or not, is inevitable in any case. So just as our lives shift and evolve, we too change and grow, and so must the people we share it with.
The last part to this post I felt was really important to discuss is self-compassion and self-love. Without a doubt, the hardest part about living with a chronic illness, whatever that might be, is feeling like you don’t know yourself anymore, and feeling like a stranger in your own body as it transforms beyond your control. And during a period where your life is changing rapidly, and your relationships are changing too, fundamentally you have to learn to accept your condition and you have to learn to love yourself extra hard. You have to be your own best friend.
Grief and chronic illness, unfortunately, goes hand in hand. Heartbreak comes in many different forms. So instead of focusing on the heartbreak of losing loved-ones to your chronic pain and mystifying illness, trust the process of letting go, and with that have deep self-compassion for yourself, them too in letting go, and know that those meant to be will stay.
Self-compassion is a truly complex subject alone. It’s easy to like ourselves when things are going well in our lives. We feel vibrant, competent, fun, and can see the endless possibilities life has to offer.
I could add so much more to this post but one final point on self-compassion is to know that whilst most will fall away naturally, it’s also okay to outgrow people organically ourselves. We are who we are right now and it’s so important to never shrink ourselves to be accepted. I’ve equally had to end so many friendships where I felt disrespected and small. Or I’ve felt empty in the presence of some and felt isolated and lonely in a crowd. From my own experience dealing with the end of these relationships was more traumatic.
But no matter how these relationships end, remember that we’re all human and therefore fallible. Letting go of any bitterness and accepting what
“Pain diminishes us, and it is so important to remember, in the midst of pain and everything that pain takes from you, that still … you are enough. You are enough just as you are. You are worthy of love and kindness. You are enough. And you have enough.” ― Steve Leder